Haunt of Jackals: A Melee in Middle Florida


OVIEDO, Florida

28.6700° N, 81.2081° W

No dude, this town used to be medieval, Cyrus Lee Hancock says, waving his electronic cigarette at the twilit tree-line rimming the parking lot. An Irish-Italian mutt with embarrassingly handsome features, Cyrus Lee looks like an obnoxious man-child. And he is. And he is freshly returned from Kathmandu, where he studied altitude sickness as a part of his dedication to hurricane survivalism. Before we brought the toll road through here, he says as if he built the highway himself, there wasn’t jack-shit beyond the gator farm, some chicken coops and miles of celery. There were more roosters in the streets of Oviedo than men, Cyrus Lee says, before shrugging, well, there still are. Goddamn cock-town; you can’t sleep through dawn if you were chewing Xanax like Skittles. But there is progress, he insists. We’ve sushi, now. When I first showed-up, Cyrus Lee explains as our half-assed tour-guide three-quarters drunk on hard-seltzer, when I first showed-up, four out of five buildings in town were churches. But you know what all those churches didn’t have? Fucking brunch, bro. Cyrus Lee turns away from the parking lot and lifts his arms as if to embrace the restaurant before us, JC-360 Sportsgrille. And on the eighth day, God said let there be sports bars. And He tried the peach sweet-tea mimosa and God said ‘this is alright’. I ask Cyrus Lee if he drinks the sweet-tea mimosas. Fuck no, Cyrus Lee Hancock cringes, that shit is rancid. 

Doc Kelly approaches from the west. The setting sun casts him as a silhouette in the parking lot, but there is no mistaking Doc’s perfectly round shaven head. Is that Vic Neverman I see, he inquires with boisterous jubilation. Dude, I say to Doc, I want you to meet this guy. This meeting of titans seems preordained by the necessity of fate, local history-in-the-making: the introduction of Doc Kelly (the Greater Orlando Genghis of Fire Safety) to Cyrus Lee Hancock (the Central Florida Caesar of Hurricane Survival) at the curb of JC-360. A few feigned smiles and swapped business cards later, we’re onto the business at hand. Let’s grab a beer, someone or the other says; there are no objections. 

Cyrus Lee Hancock Heli-Exploring in the Himalayas

JC-360 has all the makings of a sports bar: bottom-shelf wells, domestic swills, broken-tipped darts, 23 flat-screens shipped direct from Pyongyang and refried chicken-wings served by the usual suspect waitresses: bulimically svelte, spray-tanned and faux-buxom in half-torn halter-tops & skin-tight short-shorts. Doc has come with some good ol’ boys from out of Lockhart; they’re the sporting sort and quickly settle-in at the pool tables. I leave them to it and follow Cyrus Lee to where his épouse du jour sits with a cider at a high-top in the bar area. Layla Hancock is half-Seminole, half-California Valley and entirely more interesting than anything else in this town. She scowls at her husband, yet has a smile for yours truly. The night is trending well.  

Before we go too far, let me make note: the Lockhart Boys are no residents of current day Lockhart. Lockhart only shows up in internet searches when you google “what is the quickest way to die in Orlando”. In a previous epoch of Central Florida history, my mother was born & raised in Lockhart with her MacDunna kin alongside the Kellys, DeSalles, DeWitts, Lynches, O’Lairds and other Olde Florida Cracker dynasties which have since dispersed to far-flung western Orange County towns like Ocoee and Apopka and Disney Springs. Growing up, I didn’t know anything of Lockhart other than my MacDunna cousins and I never spoke to another member of the Lockhart Diaspora until the day I saw Doc Kelly’s sister doing handstands in the grass outside a train station in the English countryside (a story for another campfire). And I certainly didn’t know any DeSalle from Sunday before I met Al DeSalle, aka “the Trunk”, on this very venture to Oviedo’s JC-360 Sportsgrille.

These Lockhart Boys were creatures born of primordial muck. Their folk had been in Florida dehydrating, sun-burning and blood-letting (mosquito, leech, tick, family feud, etc.) from time immortal. It could be argued they evolved from the cypress stumps as much as they were the progeny of confederate outlaw refugees, but in all fairness, it is probably a combination of both. Al DeSalle especially seems born of the elements. His dead-eyed face is featured in German dictionaries under the definition for fratze. His grimace resembles something you dream of when you’ve eaten too much pizza and/or ingested bad acid. After joining them at the pool tables, I mistakenly inquire why they refer to him as “the Trunk”, thinking it might be in regards to the barely legal limit of combustible fertilizer he keeps in the cab of his truck or the size of his oaken forearms. Nope. They call him “the Trunk” for the elephantine appendage he was known to brandish from time to time with a quick drop of trouser. It’s quite the party trick for a man with the charm of a curb-stomp. 

You know something, he says to me, this Al DeSalle, as I line-up a cue ball, there is something about the way you play pool which tells me you’ve never satisfied a woman. He’s grinning in the way they teach you in sociopath class. The snarl of Al’s thin lips combined with his chicklet teeth is less toothsome than the necklace of reptile fangs he wears as a remembrance to all of the alligators he’s poached while firing heavy artillery. I wonder if these DeSalles are what pushed my MacDunna kinfolk the fuck out of Dodge… better starting over in Daytona than sticking around Lockhart with these maniacs. 

I lose the pool game gracefully; I’ve plenty of practice. Good game, I stutter and leave towards the high-tops where Doc Kelly and Cyrus Lee Hancock are debating the current state of Floridian precariousness, what with disaster being their tradecraft. I spot Layla Hancock, fidgeting with a hoop earring as she stares out the window at oblivion, and consider this a ripe opportunity for playful banter. Layla Santana Crow Hancock is youthful with effervescence which cannot be sustainable amidst these flat, sullen, central-state towns. She’s from the southern beaches; a separate species of Floridian. The Florida coastlines are of a different mold; they are governed by flux: shifting sands remolded with fresh footfalls, unlike the galvanized interior. Nurtured by land of such a malleable and erosive nature, Layla possesses nihilism for what precedes her. What does it matter the sand castles which fell before? Tradition is immaterial to her. Who cares these Lockhart Boys were here since the dawn of time, evolving from salamander into camouflaged cowpunch over a few millennia? Their time came and went before Layla ever noticed them. Hey, I say to Layla, you want to get out of here? She laughs at the thought. Like where, she asks quizzically, not sure whether to take me seriously. Belize, I say, veering into the absurd. Sure, she says, barely amused, returning her gaze to the oblivion out the window. I should have said something more accessible, I realize, like Target. But the moment has passed. 

Cyrus Lee Hancock, too, is from elsewhere. He’s out of the Northeast, somewhere Dunkin Donuts doubles as the local town hall, lobster rolls are a separate food group and lyme disease is assumed. Before tonight, I didn’t know he even had a sister, let alone one slinging swill at JC-360. He introduces Doc and me to Meg Hancock, who is surprised, though unimpressed her brother has friends. When her eyes flicker in my direction, they do so sleepily, with brevity, and her nostrils clench as if I burped-up a tunafish taco. I ask what beers are on draught and she points to a dismal menu of well-pumped sulphuric piss-water and a can or two of something unearthed from a St Louis archaeological dig. Yeah, what about local craft beers? Or imports, I ask. Do you fucking see local craft beer or imports on the menu, she asks. PBR, I order. Make that two of your finest, Doc Kelly says merrily. 

At an adjacent vacant high-top, Al DeSalle pauses in transit, putting a pitcher of beer down in order to text something on his phone. Cyrus Lee Hancock takes advantage of the captive audience and raises his voice to ask if Al is thirsty. Al DeSalle’s granite face shifts to confusion, Hunh? Cyrus Lee flashes his used-car salesman smile and again playfully suggests Al must be pretty thirsty. It occurs to Al the comment is in reference to the pitcher of beer. Al does not take kindly to the accusation, asking, do you think this is all for me? Are you calling me an alcoholic? His dark & beady eyes glare at Cyrus Lee who is befuddled by the sudden animosity. Al pushes further, call me an alcoholic then. Go ahead, if that is what you are saying then say it. I interrupt, hey man, it was a dumb joke. Dumbs jokes are Cyrus Lee’s way to make polite conversation. Fuck you, faggot, Al DeSalle says to me, grabs his pitcher of beer and leaves for the pool tables. He’s gone. I consider it a win. 

Jesus, Cyrus Lee Hancock says, that fucker is as friendly as cancer. Fuck him, who cares, Layla Hancock is over it. I tell them, you should see how Al DeSalle talks to his friends. While shooting pool, I watched as Al DeSalle repeatedly asked his shirttail cousin, Digby DeWitt, how many pounds of asshole he ate to get breath like that. The presumption is it takes 16 pounds of asshole. Presumption, Doc Kelly says, don’t you mean assumption? I laugh. Cyrus Lee does not. He has gone dead-eyed and his wife, Layla, is prodding him, saying, hey… hey, come back to the living, Cy.

First one today, Doc says over his freshly cracked tall-boy of Pabst Blue Ribbon. First one today, I echo. Doc winks and heads over to the pool tables to check on his Lockhart Boys. Meg Hancock returns to our hightop and she’s incredibly pissed-off. Who the fuck’s been harassing my customers, she asks, strangely assuming it was us. Which customers, I am curious, thinking maybe Al DeSalle has lodged a complaint. But it wasn’t him. Apparently, bar patrons sitting on the patio were accosted by a fork-tongued drunken idiot who told a sixty-four year old woman her pants were so tight he could see her religion. Her date did not care for this and complained to the waitress, Meg. Hearing this, Cyrus Lee slowly emerges from his fugue-state funk and calmly tells his sister, if you want to find the douchebag fucking with your tables, look for the redneck who looks like someone pulled rotisserie chicken-skin over a cinderblock. That cracker harasses the air he breathes. Meg takes this information and departs in a huff. Layla Hancock crosses her arms and tells Cyrus Lee, I hope you are happy with yourself. Fucking giddy, to be honest, Cyrus Lee says, smirking, the spark returning to his eyes. 

An unholy choir of escalating hostility brings Cyrus Lee and me out of our seats. A skirmish has erupted near the pool tables. Fuck you. No fuck you. Eat my dick, cunt. And etcetera. The Lockhart Boys are entrenched; except Doc Kelly who politely excuses himself from unjust combat unbefitting of a gentleman. Their decided enemy is Meg Hancock, who stands her ground against these good ol’ boys with her arms crossed as the staff empties from the kitchen: busboys, hair-netted fry-cooks and dishwashers, who aren’t as muscled as the country boys, but they look scrappy. And their unwashed hands are probably dripping with salmonella. The Lockhart Boys are unimpressed. Digby DeWitt has fisted a couple of billiard balls and Little Roy Duke is gripping a ball rack as if it were a triangular noose. Wait, wait, whoa, wait, wait, I step between the warring fronts. I diplomatically inquire, what the fuck? She fucking spat at me, Al DeSalle says. He called me a cunt, Meg Hancock says. Because she spat at me, Al retorts. Let’s calm down a minute, I say, relax. I immediately regret my choice of words. At shark negotiation school, they tell you the worst thing to say to a shark whose already blinking for the bite is tell it to relax or calm down. You might as well rub its belly and tell the shark it’s really not hungry, for all the good it will do you. And certainly, my message would have been better if I acted them out as a mime as that would have at least attracted attention. The kitchen staff of JC-360 do not want to go to war, but Meg Hancock might force their hand and Meg’s brother has at least three pistols on his body, let alone an arsenal in his truck. The Lockhart Boys are likely similarly armed and I know there are at least two assault rifles in their trucks. 

The lights flicker-off once, twice, drawing a temporary cease-fire. Cyrus Lee Hancock emerges and in his most grandiose voice, announces a great disrespect has been made, requiring justice paid. Everyone is confused… everyone, except me. I cringe. Having helped write his 2012 Ultimate Hurricane Survival Guide, I recognized this strategy from his “If all else fails, sew confusion” chapter on peace treaties. In the post-hurricane apocalyptic example we put into the survival guide, a member of a household is guilty of stealing gasoline from a neighbor. The household which has been wronged wants justice. The egregious household guilty of the crime insists the thief’s hand be dismembered as repayment. This sudden Old Testament escalation confuses the wronged household long enough for snipers to move into position. It’s a fucking mad proposition and one which doesn’t really fit this setting as Cyrus Lee doesn’t have any snipers to outflank the Lockhart Boys. And yet, he goes for it…

A great dishonor has been done, Cyrus Lee Hancock says. Everyone watches; including his sister, Meg, who rightfully assumes “dishonor” had been committed against her. In violation of the sacredness of hospitality, a member of this establishment spitting at a guest, we shall chop the little finger off from the hand of the offending waitress, my sister, Meg! Everyone remains silent, except Meg who screams ungodly curses at her brother, calling him a moose-cunted idiot. Cyrus Lee asks of the kitchen staff, can someone bring a cleaver or a serrated steak-knife?

Unfortunately, instead of refusing and de-escalating, the Lockhart Boys become entranced, watching with fascination as Cyrus Lee Hancock plays out his bluff. If the Oviedo Police do not arrive outside with flashing lights, dispersing the contents of JC-360 into the parking lot (or inside to the toilets to dispose of narcotic), I am unsure what would have happened. But the police do arrive and bygones are hurriedly left bobbing as bygones in the water under the bridge. 

The fuck are you angry at, Cyrus Lee asks his sister. It worked. You’re dead to me, you fucking douchebag, Meg says. Go suck-off your 12-gauge, you fucking asshole, she says. Cyrus Lee is fine with this. He might even be quite pleased with himself. Of course, it is Layla who called the local police, but she is nothing but irritated at Mister Hancock. Oh Jesus, Cyrus Lee says to his wife, you too?

The Lockhart Boys make their peace with the police and drive off in their trucks. Doc Kelly and I stay back. We’re keen enough to know not to follow Al DeSalle into the sunset, even if it means losing our ride out of Oviedo. What’s next, Vic Neverman, Doc asks me. Not sure, I say. A couple more tall-boys then maybe call your sister to see if she can pick us up? It might be a good night after all. 

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